NAEP: 26% of 12th graders are proficient in math

The latest Nation’s Report Card shows 12th graders haven’t improved in math and reading since 2009. Only 26 percent score as proficient in math and 37 percent in reading. Furthermore, “despite more than a decade of federal policies meant to close achievement gaps, the margin between white and Latino students in reading remains just as large as it was 15 years ago, and the margin between black and white students has widened over time,” reports the Washington Post. White students haven’t improved;  black students’ average reading scores have fallen.

Percentage of students at or above the Proficient level in 2013

A pie chart shows the overall percentage of students at or above the Proficient level in mathematics in 2013 was 26.A pie chart shows the overall percentage of students at or above the Proficient level reading in 2013 was 38.

Fourth and eighth graders are improving — slowly but steadily — on NAEP, but those gains disappear by the end of high school. Rising graduation rates may play a role by keeping weaker students in the testing pool.

Latinos are improving in math, noted Education Trust. So are Asian/Pacific Islanders, who already were far ahead of the norm.

If not for “modest” improvement by the weakest students, scores would have gone down, writes Jill Barshay on Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.

About Joanne


  1. This is pathetic, I know that more than 26 percent of my high school student body was proficient in Math, and certainly more than 38 percent in reading.

    Then again, we didn’t have the demographics in our schools back then, as we do today, and didn’t have to deal with the stupidity of Plyler vs. Texas or Grigg’s vs. Duke Power


    • momof4 says:

      Ditto. Few of my classmates had any parents with college degrees, or sent their kids to college, or took the college-prep math track – but they all had mastery of the basic math facts, operations, fractions, decimals, percentages, interest etc – what used to be called basic ES arithmetic. That was before calculators, most cash registers didn’t calculate change (I worked on one that did not sum purchases or do sales tax- I did it on paper) .A significant number didn’t speak English at home, either. A close relative, of my parents’ generation, had to leave school at the end of sophomore year to go to work as a secretary. She read widely and I never saw a grammar or spelling mistake in the many letters she sent me. I never saw signs with misspelled words or grammatical errors either. (Unlike the “Celebrate and Festive with Us” at the church down the street or the “Busses Only” at a local HS (now corrected). Double sigh.

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    So 12 years of high stakes testing has not accomplished anything? I KNOW that’s not the message Joanne was trying to send, but its the one that’s coming loud and clear.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I was under the impression that although NCLB was passed in 2001, most states didn’t have tests in place till years later. Also, that many of the tests are pretty easy, and that where pass rates have been low, tests have been made easier and passing scores lowered. So there hasn’t really been 12 years, and there really hasn’t been high stakes testing that actually fails a lot of kids who aren’t very numerate or literate.

      On the other hand, this indicates that high stakes tests won’t work because no one will tolerate a lot of kids failing them.

      • tim-10-ber says:

        Roger is correct on the games states played with “high stakes” tests and cut scores showing phony results…happened in TN. Things didn’t change until 5 – 6 years ago when TN received a F for its standards and the huge discrepancy between TCAP scores and NAEP. Sad…

    • Oh Mike, that’s the message you’d be sure was being sent if you were asked the question “do you want fries with that?”

      Sorry bubala, the public education system’s sucked for a lot longer then NCLB was around and NCLB was a response to the failure of state level testing schemes. Those state level testing schemes were put together to deal with an earlier flurry of public indignation at the indifference of the public education establishment to its then-revealed failure.

      Turns out NEAP scores have been essentially flat since 1971 which comfortably predates NCLB and, oh by the way, doesn’t reflect the huge increase in funding and personnel during that time period. Here ya go –

      • Perhaps you should learn to actually look at a report, instead of letting your biases completely take over.

        The report you linked clearly shows growth across almost all ages by all subgroups. However, demographic shifts in the US have worked to hide this. As the mix of subgroups have changed, it has kept the overall mean consistent, despite the improvements by all groups.

        US education has shown great improvement during that time period.

        • Yeah, it’s pretty obvious what the vast improvement over forty years has been. Especially against the backdrop of substantial funding increases. Lot’s more money with essentially zero results.

          • The results were directly in the report you linked, but obviously did not read or lack the ability to correctly interpret.

            During that time period, reading scores increased by 15 for white students, 36 for black, and 25 for hispanic. That shows across the board increases for major population groups.

            However, since white students have a higher score than other groups, on average, the changing national demographics have kept the overall average the same. White students were 80% of the sample in 1978, and only 56% in 2012.

            I realize you love to post smug comments showing your superiority in all things, but the inability to read the data you quote or understand it does undermine your points.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Same argument for years, Allen. But the fact of the matter is, the NAEP proficiency levels were labeled as frauds years ago by the GAO. The proficiency levels are meaningless.

        • Well Mike you could provide some evidence of the brilliant successes of the extant public education system rather then blaming kids, parents, society, the climate, television, drugs, lack of drugs, lack of funding, politicians, the Internet, cell phones, texting, sexting and the Harlem Shuffle for the reasons why your job is ever so difficult.

          Of course that would require “some evidence”.

          You should probably ignore an unreasonable demand like that. Of course you will.

          • Widebody1 says:

            Allen, is it possible for you to make your argument in a civil, respectful manner?

          • I am punctiliously courteous to those who accord me the same consideration even if we disagree. For those whose superiority justifies discourtesy I’m quite willing to respond in kind although typically I’ll take some pains to make the exercise worthwhile.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Mike, why did the GAO call the NAEP proficiency levels frauds?

      • So, no response. Typical.

        • PhillipMarlowe says:

          Nothing from you worth responding to, except for your word choice.
          One important take on the NAEP is from Gary Rubenstein, which is quoted (and cited!!) below.

          • Providing links to your sources is a step in the right direction although your choice of sources is inevitably found wanting. But that’s as it is with Mike from Texas as well and the reason neither of you is quite as forthcoming with sources as you would be if you didn’t know them to be in service of the viewpoint you espouse rather then the worthwhile sources you’d rather people assume them to be.

          • Bet you a month’s pay that allen is working for both the NSA and the Dept. of Education!

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            In other words, sputter, sputter

    • Joanne says:

      Scores are up for 4th and 8th graders, but not for 12th graders (except for some math progress for Latinos).

  3. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Anyway, one of the first Teach For America alum, Gary Rubenstein, examines Tennessee, and hoists the reformers and President Obama by their own petards:
    “For all states, students in 4th and 8th grade take the NAEP every four years. In 2009 some states participated in a 12th grade NAEP and in 2013 more states participated, including Tennessee. When the results came out today, it was revealed that Tennessee 12th graders were statistically tied for last out of 13 participating states in both Reading and Math.”

    “But although it is true that in 2009 the 12th graders in Tennessee didn’t report their NAEP scores so we can’t compare this group of 12th graders to the group of 12th graders four years ago. We can do something even more meaningful. Even though the 2009 12th graders can’t provide a baseline score, the 2009 8th graders — the ones who grew up to become the 2013 12th graders — did.

    So what I did was take the thirteen states who reported the 12th grade results for 2013 and made some scatter plots (love them, or hate them, but you just CAN’T be indifferent toward them). To see how the students in Tennessee truly ‘grew’ in the time that they won their Race To The Top grant.



    As can be clearly seen on these graphs, Tennessee is actually lagging not just in absolute scores, where they are statistically tied for last in both categories, but also in ‘growth’ as they are decisively below the ‘trend line’ on both graphs.

    Of course they will continue to say that the 12th graders didn’t get a chance to go through the complete reform program, so these don’t mean anything. But all these ‘reforms’ should have helped older kids to ‘grow’ academically over the past four years relative to the other states if there was anything authentic about them. Now I’m not the one who said that NAEP gains are everything, but if they insist on using this as their weapon of choice, they are going to have to deal with the criticism when those same weapons are used against them.”

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    I dimly remember readingworkbooks in the sixth grade.
    I next attended a school running grades 7-12 for a couple of years before our growing township got a couple of jr. hi built.
    Which is to say I knew some folks for the six years that covered and a few of them from elementary school.
    I don’t recall anybody, parent or teacher or student, saying anything about reading. It was presumed everybody could. And, afaik, that was correct except for a couple of spec ed kids.
    A reading teacher told me a couple of years ago when we spoke about it that reading teaches itself once you reach a take-off point. Which, I suppose, in my/our case was about the sixth grade.
    Thing is, you have to read and it hardly matters what you read.
    What’s changed?

    • The change is that less reading is being done, both in the classroom and outside. No reading for homework outside of honors/AP, little done in school because the pace has been slowed down and textbooks eliminated for many subjects. I even had a year where my son didn’t read for middle school was an included class, and enough couldn’t read that the teacher made everyone listen to an audio version of the text in class…two months of that. The kids that could read were not pleasant as they read their own material and did their other homework at their desk, once they figured out that they were being sacrificed.

  5. kodhambo says:

    Is it possible these scores reflect the ethnic makeup and cognitive ability of students in high schools precisely? May be only 26% of students should go to college; and some 12% (38-26) should attend community colleges. What is so wrong if only 1/4th to 1/3rd of stdudents continue to higher education?

    • kodhambo says:

      Responding to Paul”s comment earlier, the system has shown three things comparing the gains from 1971 to 2013:
      1. Ability to raise the test scores of age 9 and age 13 children

      2. Children whose test scores were low to begin with at ages 9 and 13, have shown the maximum raises.

      3. Children seem to hit the wall at age 17, and the system has not been unable to raise the scores of 12th graders, in particular, in math.

  6. I see something completely different in these results, since I’m just a citizen interested in educated youth and not a teacher or education professional interested in the higher ramifications. Two things:

    * The math portion of the test should not be a stretch for high school students. I took a few sample questions here:

    Our average high schooler would have missed three fourths of them and they are pathetically easy for supposed “high school senior” proficiency.

    * These results cast a serious doubt on the idea that racial discrimination is a central factor in test performance. No one in US society treats “Asian/Pacific Islanders” with any particular positive bias. They are perceived by many as unusually smart, but I’ve never seen a circumstance where that would have led anyone to give them any advantages over white people. In fact, I’ve seen the opposite, where the fact that they are perceived as “other” leads people to use epithets when referring to them. So, how is it that they score dramatically better on the test? The only answer I see is “cultural differences”. Looking at the test results, you have to assume that the “Asian/Pacific Islanders” culture promotes learning and study.

    So, we as a society will go and drivel away countless borrowed billions to fix racial discrimination instead of cultural differences.

    There *IS* a justice to this, however: years and years of failing to teach math have led to a society that ignores math and math scores and focuses instead on political hackery and correctness.

    We get what we deserve.

  7. Ours is the only educational system in the world where students do worse from grades 8 to 12 than any other country. From K-8, our students are on par or slightly better, than after 8th grade, we tank.

    Any ideas? (i’ve got a ton) 🙂

  8. Mike in Texas says:

    Yawn! I’ve posted the links to the analysis sooo many times over the years I’m started to get bored with shoving facts in Allen’s face.

    Remember Allen, how we’ve argued for years over the meaning of “fundamentally flawed”?

    • No. But I do remember your “the government of Texas admitted that it underfunded public education” lie.

      It was kind of fun forcing you to finally disgorge a link. But when you’re not holding any cards all you have to back up your bluff is more bluffing.

      The pdf you linked looks vaguely familiar as well.

      I believe the lie in this case is trying to inflate a disagreement about methods and interpretation into a charge of deliberate fraud. I imagine you’re hoping no one will look at the document you linked so that the mere act of linking confers credibility on your charge of fraud.

      Well, feel free to indicate the point in the document wherein the GAO levels the charge of fraud.

      By the way, Florida just enacted a second account-based choice program.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Actually, you’re the one that’s lying. I never said what you claim I said. I did say a Texas judge said that. BTW, Texas school funding has been rule unconstitutional AGAIN. I’d tell you to look it up but we know how allergic you are to facts.

        • Nope. You kept touting it as “the government admitted” and I kept after you to pop loose with something other then distractions, evasions and unsubstantiated claims. You were finally forced to disgorge the pdf.

          I took a look at the pdf, found that the judge had hired an economist, a woman I believe, to determine via the mystical powers enjoyed by economists, what the proper amount of money was for Texas to spend on education and you, no doubt for the convenience of anyone reading the posts, contracted that to “the government”, meaning Texas, and that it was an admission that Texas was shortchanging public education.

          But you know Mike, it really doesn’t matter all that much to me. You, and the point of view you represent are losing and that’s all that really counts.

  9. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mike, Thanks for the link. Having read through the report, I think I’ve made sense of it.
    1) It is about the interpretation of the math National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
    2) NAEP tests in several subjects have been given since 1969 but legislation passed in 1988 said the NAEP governing body should also set standards for student achievement. After a long, involved procedure, they set 3 cut scores for the math test, corresponding to three levels they called basic, proficient, and advanced.
    3) The first use of these standards in 1990 led to more than one third of students labelled as not even basic, and only a few percent hitting advanced.
    4) Congress was pissed and asked its General Accounting Office to investigate how good the standards were.
    5) GAO said not very.
    6) The GAO seems to be okay with the test as a test of general math performance, but not with using the test to divide students into 4 boxes, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced.
    7) The GAO thinks that constructing the 4 boxes from the total score rather than specific areas of math performance doesn’t identify specific areas of strength and weakness.
    8) Because of the way the test is scored, a student can actually have fairly basic math skills but get a “below basic” score because they can’t do much of anything beyond basic.
    9) It might well be better to calculate whether a student has reached a “basic” level by considering only the “basic” questions and do the same for “proficient” and “advanced.”
    10) There was no validity research, for example, no showing that a “1990 NAEP score of 330 (12th grade proficient) is the dividing line between the 12th graders who succeed in freshman mathematics courses or on the job and those who do not.”
    11) Sources the GAO cites indicate that many students who score below “basic” actually have sufficient math skills for a wide variety of jobs and many students who score below “proficient” will succeed in college.
    12) The report uses the word “flawed” to describe both the process for putting students into the 4 boxes, and the way that process was developed. It never uses the word “fraud.”

    It seems to me that the GAO would not have any problem with using NAEP math scores to indicate American students are doing better or worse in math as time passes, or to quantify ethnic differences in performance. They have problems with saying a greater or lesser percentage are becoming “proficient.”

    The report is dated almost 21 years ago (June, 1993). There have been 3 changes of administration since 1990. Mike, do you know how much, if anything, has changed since the report?

    • Now where have we heard a similar, if substantially condensed, analysis of the report coming to a very similar conclusion?